Author Archives: Melissa Glenn

Learning Philosophy 1.0…Not Memorization!

As a community college educator with many first semester students, I am trying to prepare my students for the college experience, for their academic program in the health sciences field, and for potential future transfer to a larger four-year institution.  Therefore, I am not only trying to teach content in my subject area, but also trying to teach my students the skills they will need to succeed in college.  That covers a little on my teaching philosophy, but what about learning?

Learning for me is shown when a student can take the basic information that is presented to them and comprehend it at a deeper level.  This can be shown by being able to discuss and apply the material to a particular situation.  For instance, in teaching anatomy, students are expected to be able to identify anatomical structures from a model.  This is usually a fairly easy task for most students but doesn’t really show learning if the student is unable to recognize that same structure presented in a slightly different way during a future class.  Many students have become accustomed to memorization to succeed in their prior educational experience, but if they can’t apply that information later in the course, they didn’t really learn it.  Since my courses are designed as a two semester sequence that builds on prior information, memorization is not going to be adequate to succeed.

How learning takes place really depends on the student and their learning preferences.  I try to allow the students to determine the way that works the best for them.  This includes online quizzes, flashcards, videos, reading the textbook, meeting with me for discussion, study groups, online games, and laboratory simulations.  So many of the tasks that help students learn involve experimentation, interaction, and collaboration.  I have many students who have formed their own online learning groups via email and social media sites to share notes and learning strategies that they have discovered.  Instead of a competition between each other, they work together to help and encourage each other in their learning.

As an educator, I do need to assess the students at regular intervals to see if learning has taken place.  I love the moments in class where a confused look on someone’s face turns into an excited look of comprehension.  But those looks can’t always be recorded, so there does need to be evidence that learning has taken place.  For tests and quizzes, I try to use a mixture of both basic knowledge questions and some more difficult application and synthesis questions.  I also repeat basic physiological concepts over and over, so that if they can apply material from a previous section to the current section, they can determine how the new scenario will work.  For instance, a common physiological mechanism is negative feedback, in which the body sends signals to return something such as a hormone or body temperature back to its normal level.  This is a concept that is described in the first week of class, but is continually brought up for many situations as the two semester course progresses.    If the student can understand that concept early on, they can then continually apply it to new physiological processes.  In class discussions and tests, this type of application indicates that learning has occurred.  In addition, when a student brings up a particular real life disease and can recognize how the information just presented shows how the disease occurs, it indicates true learning, instead of memorization, has taken place.  Many of my students will soon be in clinical situations where they need to work on plans for patient care, so the more I can encourage higher order thinking, the more they will truly learn and be better prepared for their future academic and professional careers.

Melissa's wordle

Moving from being “lectured to” to encouraging student interaction and meaning making

  • How is learning presumed to occur within the context of Web 2.0?

In the context of Web 2.0, learning is through a community of engagement, which allows students to participate with other learners about the material.  In this process, they are able to construct their own understanding of the content and understand it at a deeper level.  In this way, Web 2.0 learning is a form of constructivist learning or as described by The Difference Between Instructivism, Constructivism, and Connectivism, by Terry Heick (http://www.teachthought.com/learning/the-difference-between-instructivism-constructivism-and-connectivism/), a form of connectivism in which learning is occurring in informal ways with others through the use of technology.  This is an interesting article as an introduction to the concept of connectivism, which is a term that is very new to me.  I was intrigued by the concept of bricolage from the John Seely Brown article, Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age.  I have students who share with the class a particular site, video, or article that they found helpful in understanding of applying the lecture material.  I have other students who design their own lecture outlines, study guides, and Facebook pages and share these with other students.  They learn and  continue to learn how to learn from each other.

  • What are the differences in the role of the learner and the facilitator as compared to ‘traditional’ learning environments? (Do you consider these roles and processes viable/valid given your philosophy of learning?)

As a facilitator, I often need to take a step back and allow the students to apply the material on their own.  In my online courses, I do this by encouraging discussion and assigning research assignments on the material.  These assignments encourage the students to find articles that relate to a particular topic or apply textbook concepts to real life situations.  For example, in describing the process of mitosis, I encourage discussion about cancer and assign individual research projects about cancer.  Since most have personal experience within their family, this allows them to understand better why the process of mitosis is important and how problems with this process can lead to cancer.  I like to call these activities, meaning-making, or “Why do I care?” activities.  In my on campus, face to face courses, I have very large lecture sections that tend more towards a traditional learning environment with presentation of content to the students.  However, I incorporate discussion, video segments, and short quizzes to encourage interaction and learning.  My face to face course does break into smaller 16 person lab sections in which I can lean more towards a facilitator as the students work in small groups to apply the material from lecture.  I often have students say that they learn much more in the lab setting, as they can utilize higher order thinking by working together on the lab.  Becoming a facilitator of learning was difficult for me when I first started teaching about ten years ago, since my models of college instruction came from the traditional large lecture setting, such as my freshman 8AM biology lecture with 800 people in Schwab Auditorium!  However, looking back, I see that I was simply memorizing material instead of truly understanding or learning that material.   I have had to turn my own perception of learning around as I have developed my teaching style over the years.

  • What implications do these shifts have for how we think about designing learning environments?

Brown describes how attention spans of managers (and most kids!) ranges between 30 seconds to five minutes.  Students are used to constantly checking their phones for text messages and emails.  Sitting through a 50 minute traditional lecture would lead to boredom and loss of attention.  I have tried to format my “lectures” with constant questions and interaction to maintain my students’ attention.  In lab, I allow them to use their phones, tablets, and laptops to help them as they work together on the material.  For anatomy lessons using lab models, many students take pictures of the models with their phones and make digital flashcards to use to study whenever they have a few minutes available.  Some students make videos of themselves pointing out parts of anatomical models that they can watch again and again until they have the material mastered.  I promote the use of these tools and encourage the students to develop the best method to learn the material that works for them.  In this way, I also learn new methods to use in my future teaching!  A major implication of Web 2.0 is that educators need to not be afraid of using these tools, but instead develop the  best ways to use the evolving tools in their own learning environments.

Melissa’s Introduction

Hello, my name is Melissa Glenn.  I am an Assistant Professor of Biology at Broome Community College in Binghamton, NY.  Broome Community College is a 2 year college within the State University of New York.  Binghamton is just over the Pennsylvania line in upstate New York, a little less than an hour north of Scranton.  I am originally from southeastern PA and received my B.S. and M.S. degrees from Penn State many years ago.  Some of my colleagues have been experimenting with using blogs and facebook in their classes, but I have little experience with this myself.  I teach both on campus and online courses, and am very interested in the best ways to integrate Web 2.0 tools in my courses.  I do find that the students are always expecting more in terms of instructor use of these tools.  For my course, one of the most used tools by the students are youtube videos from other anatomy and physiology instructors that help them learn the challenging content.  Although I will be quite busy until the spring courses that I am teaching are completed in late May, I am looking forward to the course and discussing with all of you!